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Tuesday, January 26, 1993 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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An Old Plaque Is Turned Around - And Ku Klux Klan Marches

Washington Post

PULASKI, Tenn. - On the first weekend that two sons of the New South stood at the pinnacle of national power in Washington, a ritual took place here. The ritual had to do with race, the history of the Old South and what might be called Massey's Gesture.

It was the weekend the Ku Klux Klan came back to town.

About 150 marchers walked up the steep hill at the foot of Madison Street and past the statue of Sam Davis, hanged as a Confederate spy by Union Army troops who occupied Giles County in 1863. They silently glided by a nondescript, one-story brick building just off the town square.

There, on Christmas Eve night in 1865, five men gathered in the law offices of Judge Thomas M. Jones and founded the Klan.

There too, more than a century later, Donald Massey made his gesture, removing the bronze plaque that the United Daughters of the Confederacy had attached to the building in 1917 to commemorate the original gathering. He reversed it and welded it back on the brick wall. Now, all that can be seen is the green-black back side of the historic marker.

The Knights of the Ku Klux Klan have returned here to the Klan's birthplace every January since 1986, but they marched explicitly last Saturday to protest what their leader, Thomas Robb, called the "disgrace beyond belief" committed by Massey when he turned the plaque around in 1989.

Massey, 58, purchased the building on West Madison in the mid-1980s. He knew about the building's history and the plaque, he said, but that "didn't bother me one way or another. It had nothing to do with me."

But that soon changed when Robb's Klan organization, seeking a way to protest creation of the Martin Luther King Jr. national holiday, hit on the idea of a march in the Klan's birthplace about the time of the King celebration. When Klan members came to town each January, recalled Massey's wife, Marguerite, "they would come to that building, kiss the plaque and bow down to it. They were up to no good."

In August 1989, the Masseys decided to reverse the plaque, not, Massey said, as a compromise but as an attempt to send a message.

"I thought by turning the plaque around it would say the same thing as turning your back on racism and the negativism that goes with it and the complacency with the racial situation that we have today, and not just in the South," Massey said.

Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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